Alex Verdugo Left Out of Red Sox’ Opening Day Lineup; Outfielder Reassured Ron Roenicke That He ‘Hits Left-Handers Well’

As he is about to embark on his first season with his new team, Alex Verdugo will not be starting for the Red Sox on Opening Day.

With left-hander Tommy Milone getting the start for Baltimore opposite Nathan Eovaldi on Friday night, the 24-year-old outfielder was left out of the Sox’ starting lineup by manager Ron Roenicke in favor of right-handed hitting outfielder Kevin Pillar.

When speaking with reporters prior to Friday’s season opener against the Orioles at Fenway Park, Roenicke addressed this decision, saying that he called Verdugo earlier in the day to let him know that he was not starting against the left-handed starter.

“He reassured me that he does hit left-handers well,” Roenicke said via Zoom in regards to Verdugo’s response. As a reverse splits guy, that is indeed true for the left-handed hitter.

In 106 games played for the Dodgers last season, the Arizona native racked up 109 plate appearances against southpaws. Over the course of those 109 PAs, he slashed .327/.358/.485 with two home runs, nine RBI, and a 121 wRC+. Against right-handed pitching, his OPS dropped by 36 points and his wRC+ dropped by 10 points over 268 plate appearances.

Earlier this month, Verdugo insisted that he wanted to be an everyday player with the Red Sox, but he also acknowledged that he could start the season in a platoon role with his new team.

“I want to play and I want to be a starter,” he said during one of his Summer Camp media sessions. “That’s what everybody comes into the big leagues for. That’s what everybody wants to be. So I want to play every day. But, if they want to do what they have to do, then I’ll follow and I’ll play as hard as I can.”

Perhaps we’ll see Verdugo make his first start with the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon, when right-hander Alex Cobb will be taking the mound for the O’s.

 

Red Sox Opening Day Lineup: Let the 2020 Season Begin

At long last, Opening Day for the 2020 Boston Red Sox has arrived. The Sox will be hosting the Orioles in a three-game weekend series beginning Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

According to team chairman Tom Werner, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, Boston mayor Marty Walsh, and one other special guest “who’s very important to our community” will be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the actual first pitch.

As for the game itself, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will be matched up against left-hander Tommy Milone for Baltimore. Here’s how the rest of the Sox will be lined up behind thier first-time Opening Day starter:

One notable thing to notice here is the fact that J.D. Martinez is batting out of the two-hole, something manager Ron Roenicke experimented with during this week’s exhibition games against the Blue Jays.

Entering his third season with Boston, Martinez has never hit in the two-spot as a member of the Red Sox. He last did it in 2016 as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

Because the Sox are facing a southpaw, Roenicke likely wanted to move Martinez up in the order to break up the left-handed bats of Andrew Benintendi, who is batting leadoff, and Rafael Devers, who is batting third.

Speaking of pitching matchups, Kevin Pillar is starting over Alex Verdugo in right field, and Michael Chavis is starting at first base over Mitch Moreland. Chavis, Jackie Bradley Jr., and newcomer Jose Peraza round out the Sox’ lineup in this one.

Again, first pitch for the first of 60 games this season is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. It’s time.

Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke Views Jose Peraza, Kevin Pillar as Potential Options to Lead off Against Left-Handed Pitching

Although the Red Sox roster is just about set for the start of the 2020 season, manager Ron Roenicke still has some decisions to make in terms of who will be hitting where in the team’s lineup.

More specifically in this case, Roenicke is looking for other candidates not named Andrew Benintendi who could potentially lead off against a left-handed starter. Two players he has in mind for that role are Jose Peraza and Kevin Pillar.

Peraza has been someone the Red Sox have been impressed with since the team regrouped for Summer Camp at Fenway Park earlier this month. Roenicke even said two weeks ago that he’s been “so impressed” with what the 26-year has been doing offensively.

Prior to signing a one-year deal with Boston back in December, Peraza batted out of the leadoff spot in 98 games for the Reds going back to the start of the 2016 season.

Over those 98 games, the Venezuela native accrued 120 plate appearances against left-handed pitching and posted a decent .318/.361/.400 slash line to go along with a 5.8% walk rate, a 7.5% strikeout rate, and a wRC+ of 102. In terms of counting stats, Peraza collected seven doubles, one triple, and four RBI while scoring 15 times.

Pillar, meanwhile, has accrued 387 career plate appearances out of the leadoff spot over seven big-league seasons between the Blue Jays and Giants. 118 of those plate appearances have come against left-handed pitching.

In that relatively small sample size, the now-31-year-old, who also signed a one-year deal with the Sox in February, slashed .303/.339/.541 while walking 5.1% of the time, striking out 12.7% of the time, and posting a 131 wRC+. He hit three homers and collected 14 RBI over that same time frame as well.

“I know Pillar can do it. I feel good with him up there against the left-handers,” Roenicke said of the veteran outfielder batting leadoff against southpaws. “And then we’ll just kind of see.”

The reason why Roenicke is pondering using a different leadoff hitter besides Benintendi is mainly because he is wary of deploying two left-handed hitters — Benintendi and Rafael Devers — at the top of the lineup against left-handed starters.

“I think we have some options. But right off the bat, I may go with the two left-handers and give those guys a chance to do it,” added the Sox skipper. “And I know we’ve talked about the short season, how we need to get off to a good start. But I still know that if those two guys are hitting well, Andrew and Devers like we’ve seen so far — they’re hitting left-handers and right-handers right now — so I feel pretty comfortable with both of them.”

Following the same criteria used for Peraza and Pillar, Benintendi owns a career .752 OPS and 103 wRC+ in 91 plate appearances against left-handed pitching while batting out of the leadoff spot since making his major-league debut in August 2016.

As you may already be aware, this all comes as the Red Sox prepare for their Opening Day opponent: Orioles left-hander John Means, who really had his way with the Boston bats during his rookie year last season, posting a 2.89 ERA over five starts and 28 innings of work in 2019.

Red Sox One of Several Teams Who Could Sign Yasiel Puig, per Report

The Red Sox are among the teams who could possibly sign free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Per Heyman, who appeared on Thursday night’s edition of MLB Tonight, the Red Sox are one of four clubs “who have been mentioned as possibilities” for the 29-year-old outfielder. The others being the Giants, Padres, and Rays.

Arguably the best free agent remaining ahead of the start of the 2020 season, Puig did have major-league offers on the table prior the coronavirus-induced, league-wide shutdown. The Marlins, for instance, were one of those teams who had offered the Cuba national a one-year deal.

But, as Heyman noted, Puig wanted to hold out in the hopes of playing in front of bigger crowds.

That component to his decision is off the table now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it would appear that guaranteed money and/or playing time would be most prevalent in Puig’s pursuit to find a new club.

Splitting time between the Reds and Indians last season, the one-time All-Star slashed .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI over 149 games played primarily as a right fielder.

The Red Sox, as currently constructed, are a team that has a solid amount of outfield depth at the major-league level. Between Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Verdugo, Kevin Pillar, and J.D. Martinez, it’s somewhat difficult to see how Puig would fit in that crowded outfield picture in 2020.

Of course, as noted quality Twitter follow @RedSoxStats brings up, “If the Sox know they have any room below the tax threshold, they should gobble up any talent [at] any position.”

It’s definitely surprising that Puig is still on the open market six days after MLB’s freeze on roster moves was lifted. On a personal note, I don’t view Boston as favorites to sign the former Dodgers star, but it will certainly be fascinating to watch how things unfold regarding Puig and other free agents in the coming days.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo ‘Probably Farther Along Than Anyone,’ According to Ron Roenicke

In terms of preparations for the upcoming, abbreviated 2020 season, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo is “probably further along than anyone,” manager Ron Roenicke told reporters earlier Monday afternoon.

That being the case because, according to Roenicke, the 24-year-old “has been on the field and hitting in the cage” under team supervision while other players have not gotten that opportunity.

Coming off a stress fracture in his lower back suffered while with the Dodgers last season, Verdugo, along with left-hander Chris Sale, had the opportunity to report back to JetBlue Park earlier than most players last month in order to continue his rehab.

Because of this, in addition to the fact that he remained in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic-induced shutdown, the Arizona native was able to get some work in at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers.

Prior to said shutdown ordered by Major League Baseball back in March, it looked as though Verdugo would miss the first chunk of the original 2020 season due to that stress fracture.

Now, as chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters last week, the former Dodgers top prospect “should be all systems go” once the Red Sox report to Fenway Park for summer training camp on Wednesday.

As things stand at the moment, it looks like Verdugo could split time in right field with Kevin Pillar as he eases his way back from that back ailment.

Roenicke also mentioned that things “could change [for Verdugo] depending on how things match up with opposing teams.”

Since making his major-league debut with Los Angeles in 2017, the former second-round draft pick owns a career .273/.335/.448 slash line in 355 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, and a career .306/.333/.452 slash line in 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers.

The day-to-day status of Verdugo will certainly be something to monitor once training camp begins this week. As Roenicke put it, hopefuly there won’t be any setbacks and he’ll be ready to go once Opening Day 2.0 rolls around in late July.

Jackie Bradley Jr. and J.D. Martinez Both Homer as Pitching Struggles Continue for Red Sox in 13-9 Loss to Tigers

After allowing nine runs in a 9-1 loss against the Yankees on Tuesday, the Red Sox fell to 4-7-2 in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday following a 13-9 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Tigers at JetBlue Park.

Making his first start and third overall appearance of the spring for Boston was Jeffrey Springs, coming off a scoreless inning of relief in his last time out against the Yankees this past Sunday.

Working just the first inning of this one, the left-hander got hit hard for five runs, all of which were earned, on five hits and zero walks to go along with zero strikeouts of the afternoon.

All five of those early Tigers tallies came courtesy of the long ball, with C.J. Cron whalloping a three-run homer off of Springs, and Frank Schwindel following that up with a two-run shot a few moments later.

It was a laborious task, but Springs was able to at least retire the final two of the eight hitters he faced in order to retire the side without giving anything else up.

From there, Eduard Bazardo walked one and struck out another in a scoreless top half of the second, Ryan Brasier bounced back from a tough spring debut with a pair of perfect frames, Heath Hembree followed by serving up two home runs, a solo shot in the fifth plus a two-run shot in the sixth, over two innings of relief, Yoan Aybar worked around a leadoff walk and one-out HBP in an otherwise clean seventh, Mike Shawaryn fanned three in the eighth, and left-hander Matthew Kent got bombarded for five runs, although none of them were earned, in the ninth before Matthew Gorst came on and recorded the final out on a punchout.

All in all, Sox pitching combined to surrender 13 runs (eight earned) on 15 hits, five of which were home runs, and two walks to go along with 10 total strikeouts over nine innings of work.

Since the calendars flipped to March, Red Sox pitching has allowed 35 runs over their last four games.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that featured Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez, Jonathan Arauz, Josh Ockimey, Jantzen Witte, and Jeter Downs was matched up against veteran right-hander Ivan Nova to begin things on Wednesday.

Despite going down by five before even taking their first at-bats, the Boston bats responded swiftly in their half of the first, as Pillar and Bradley Jr. greeted Nova with a leadoff single and double to put runners in scoring position with one out for J.D. Martinez.

Martinez didn’t waste anytime, either, as he took the second pitch he saw from the Tigers starter and deposited deep to left field for a three-run shot. His second homer of the spring cut the deficit to two at 5-3.

An inning later, it was the bottom half of the lineup getting it done, with Ockimey leading the frame off with a double and Downs, the organization’s top prospect, driving him in on a one-out, run-scoring single to left. 5-4.

In addition to his first inning double, Bradley Jr. capitalized in his second plate appearance against Nova in the third, as he ripped a leadoff homer over the left field wall to knot things up at five runs apiece. His second big fly of the spring.

Fast forward all the way to the seventh, after Detroit had jumped out to an 8-5 edge, Chad De La Guerra brought his side back to within two runs on another solo shot off Tigers reliever Rony Garcia.

And in the ninth, in what had suddenly turned into a runaway for the Tigers, Roldani Baldwin came to the plate with two outs and the bases full, and he promptly unloaded them on a three-run double off Jose Cisnero.

That three RBI knock made it a 13-9 contest, which would go on to be Wednesday’s final score after Nolan Blackwood got Ryder Jones to line out to short.

Some observations from this loss:

Xander Bogaerts, in his spring debut at designated hitter: 0-for-2 with two strikeouts.

This game was not televised, but the fact that Heath Hembree has a 10.13 ERA through his first two appearances of the spring is far from promising. His roster spot could be in jeopardy if he continues to struggle.

Nice to see Ryan Brasier bounce back with two scoreless innings of relief Wednesday. Probably the highlight of the day pitching-wise.

Kevin Plawecki walked in his lone plate appearance of the afternoon after replacing Christian Vazquez behind the plate in the fifth. Jonathan Lucroy did not play.

Rusney Castillo hit a triple.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll host the Houston Astros at JetBlue Park on Thursday afternoon.

Left-hander Kyle Hart will get the start for Boston, while right-hander Josh James will do the same for Houston.

As mentioned before, Hart is one of several candidates vying for a spot in the Sox’ starting rotation. He owns an ERA of 9.00 through two appearances (one start) this spring.

The Astros have been subject to plenty of boos from opposing crowds this spring, so it will be interesting to see, or hear about, how the JetBlue Park crowd handles things given the fact that the 2018 Red Sox are still under investigation by the league.

Anyway, first pitch Thursday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST. This game will not be televised.

 

 

Connor Wong Crushes Grand Slam as Red Sox Blow out Orioles

In a game that was not televised, the Red Sox improved to 2-2-1 in Grapefruit League play on Tuesday afternoon with a 12-4 win over a split Baltimore Orioles squad at JetBlue Park.

Making his first start of the spring for Boston in this one was Ryan Weber, one of the many names vying for the fifth spot in the Sox’ starting rotation with just over a month to go until Opening Day.

Tossing two innings on Tuesday, the right-hander kept the O’s off the scoreboard while scattering two hits and zero walks to go along with one strikeout on the afternoon.

Both of those Baltimore hits came consecutively with two outs in the top of the first, but Weber was able to settle down and get Pat Valaika to fly out to center before retiring the side in order in the second.

In relief of Weber, left-hander Mike Kickham had a tough showing, as he surrendered one run in the third and three more, one of which was unearned, in the fourth due to a wild pitch and passed ball that got through Connor Wong behind the plate.

Hunter Haworth had to come on to try and clean Kickham’s mess up with two outs in the fourth, and he did just that by getting Anthony Santander to ground out to third.

From there, lefty Brian Johnson worked his way around a one-out single in an otherwise clean fifth to eventually earn his first win of the spring, while Domingo Tapia and Denyi Reyes combined for four scoreless frames of work to close this thing out with a final score of 12-4.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox starting lineup that featured a healthy number of regulars like Andrew Benintendi, Christian Vazquez, J.D. Martinez, and Mitch Moreland was matched up against Orioles right-hander Tom Eshelman to start things out on Tuesday.

Eshelman may not have given up any runs over the course of his brief two-inning start, but he gave up plenty of hard contact, including a line-drive one-out single off the bat of Vazquez in the first.

Two innings later, it was Vazquez coming through again, as he drove in Benintendi all the way from first on a hard-hit double to left off Orioles reliever Zac Lowther for his side’s first run of the day. 1-1.

In the fourth, the Boston bats once again responded to Baltimore, as they countered three more O’s tallies with three of their own on a two-run home run off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. and RBI single off the bat of Tommy Joseph to plate Bobby Dalbec from second.

Both of those knocks came off Lowther, and they pulled the Sox back even with the Orioles at four runs a piece.

Fortunately, that stalemate did not last long at all, with the first five hitters who came to the plate in the fifth all reaching off Hunter Cervenka on two singles, two walks, and one HBP to make it a 6-4 contest.

Marco Hernandez added on to that with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to score Bobby Dalbec, Kevin Pillar re-loaded the bases with an infield single off new O’s reliever Zach Muckenhirn, and that brought Connor Wong to the plate with the chance to redeem himself after making a few defensive mistakes the inning prior.

On the third pitch he saw from Muckenhirn, Wong did just that, as the 23-year-old crushed a grand slam over the fence in right-center field for his first homer in a Red Sox uniform.

That gave the Sox a commanding 11-4 advantage, and after Nick Longhi scored on a fielding error in the same inning, 12-4 would go on to be Tuesday’s final score.

Some observations from this win:

Because this game was not televised, I really do not have much to add here. Kevin Pillar went 2-for-2 with a double off the bench and Mitch Moreland hit a triple. Both of those things are nice to see.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll travel to Bradenton to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time this spring.

Left-hander Martin Perez will make his Red Sox debut for Boston, while right-hander Mitch Keller will get the start for Pittsburgh.

Perez is essentially a lock to be the No. 4 starter this year, so I’m looking forward to see how his first outing goes even if it is just an exhibition game. He is no stranger to the Grapefruit League either.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EDT at LECOM Park. This game won’t be on NESN, but it will be on the Pirates’ network, so if you have MLB.TV, you are in luck.

 

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo Dealing With Stress Fracture in Lower Back

New Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has a stress fracture in his lower back and his status for Opening Day is up in the air, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke.

“It takes a lot of time to heal,” Roenicke said of Verdugo’s injury earlier Saturday. “It’s an injury that’s fairly common in baseball because it’s a rotation issue. Our trainers are familiar with it. We’ll take him as the steps come — not only what the images show, but his response to things.”

One of three players acquired in the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers earlier in the week, Verdugo missed the final two months of the 2019 season due to back and oblique issues and he himself believes it stemmed from playing on Tropicana Field’s artificial surface back in May.

The Red Sox knew of the 23-year-old’s medical history ahead of the trade’s completion, and it appears that a plan to take things slowly may already be in place.

Verdugo mentioned this plan in his first session with reporters at Fenway South on Saturday, saying that, “We have something we can draw out. The exact time frame of it, whether it’s to be ready for the start of the season or slightly after, we’re not really sure. We’re not trying to rush that. We don’t want to give people or give fans a false hope or just even a deadline we miss again.”

Because he is under team control through 2024, the Red Sox do not have any incentive to rush their new outfielder into things this year and potentially risk further injury.

“We’re going to take our time on this,” Verdugo said. “Make sure that I’m right so that way when I am playing and I’m able to be in Boston, it’s the whole year and it’s continuous that we don’t have any setbacks or anything like that.”

When healthy, the Arizona native could prove to be a tremendous asset to a new-look Red Sox outfield that also brought in ex-Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar on a one-year deal on Friday.

With that added bonus of having someone like Pillar available to potentially play all three outfield positions, that proves even further why the Sox should not rush things with Verdugo.

“To be honest, if everything goes right, (Verdugo) still may not be ready for Opening Day,” Roenicke added Saturday. “We need him to be healthy to see what kind of player we have and the kind of player he knows he is.”

Full-squad workouts for the Red Sox begin on Monday, while exhibition games begin on Friday. Verdugo will presumably not see much action as he continues to rehab from his stress fracture.

Red Sox Reportedly in Agreement With Kevin Pillar on One-Year Deal

The Red Sox are reportedly in agreement with free-agent outfielder Kevin Pillar on a one-year deal in the $4 million range, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. The completion of the deal is still pending a physical.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman had reported that the two sides were close to a major-league deal on Tuesday.

After officially dealing Mookie Betts to the Dodgers earlier this week, the Red Sox found themselves in need of a right-handed hitting outfeilder, as the club’s projected everyday outfield — Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Alex Verdugo — are all left-handed hitters.

Pillar fills that need in addition to providing exceptional defense in center field.

In 161 total games between the Blue Jays and Giants last year, the 31-year-old slashed .259/.287/.432 with a career-best 21 home runs and 88 RBI to go along with 14 stolen bases. He was non-tendered by San Francisco in early December.

One thing Pillar did exceptionally well last year was produce against left-handed pitching, as he posted an .823 OPS in 174 plate appearances against southpaws.

Compare that to Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggles against left-handed pitching in 2019 (.640 OPS in 188 PAs), and the two could create quite the platoon for Boston in center field.

A native of California, Pillar was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn approximately $9.7 million in his final year of salary arbitration heading into the 2020 season.

The former Blue Jay owns a lifetime slash line of .307/.339/.380 with one career home run and 22 RBI at Fenway Park.